Formal Analysis and Emotional Reaction
One of the quieter Thursday events that began TBA was an art criticism workshop led by Isaac Peterson, stalwart blogger/writer for Port. This was the first time I’d met Isaac, who moved to Portland a year ago and began teaching art history at PNCA, and he seemed a human embodiment of his Port writing—enthusiastic, tangential, opinionated and wordy. Isaac was the first to admit to the twenty-odd audience members that his writing typically inspires impassioned letters of refute. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head over the state of his prose. His is but one opinion in a town with too few art critics (mostly male, at that) who receive a large amount of backlash.
That noted, Isaac’s workshop framed some important questions which arise in the midst of an art whirlwind. What do we make of a performance or installation? After nights of sensory stimulation, how do we begin to piece together the larger picture?
Isaac paced the room and flipped through slides of DaVinci, Caravaggio and Gentileschi, pointing out mistaken scholarship (the Mona Lisa was a vampire), feminist versus sensualist Baroque interpretations and other culturally driven readings of work. He suggested that since meaning changes with time, begin interpreting a piece using personal experience or inserting yourself into the work. As the audience queried him about the technique of approaching art (as if it was some wild animal being observed along the river banks!) it became clear that there’s no wrong way to begin.
“Art is the process by which the individual becomes re-sensitized,” Isaac said. Agreed, as long as we pay particular attention to the technique the artist is using and how that deliberately manipulates us as an audience. A collection of guitars in a public square. A drum corps. A parade that collects passers-by as it winds through downtown, a tedious floating poem pulled forward by a power boat. Unique pieces onto themselves, but part of a greater picture.
Isaac Peterson concludes his two-day workshop today with group critiques of Matthew Day Jackson’s Paradise Now, to be included on the TBA Blog.
Anna Simon